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Elder Scrolls Online interview: Bethesda talks risks, rewards and compromises

Exploration, Kinect, subscription fees, quest design and more

The success or failure of The Elder Scrolls Online will have far-reaching implications. This isn't just one of the few new MMOs to charge a monthly fee - a business model that's popularly considered to be at death's door. It's also the first ever Elder Scrolls title to embrace multiplayer, and as Bethesda's marketing boss Pete Hines explained to OXM only this April, prior to announcement, the franchise has gotten by just fine as a single player only affair.

We caught up with Hines and lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle over the summer to discuss the ins, outs, whys and wherefores. The full transcript is a garbled mess worthy of Sheogorath himself, so I've taken the liberty of chopping it up into relatively coherent morsels. Enjoy.

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1. On the choice of a subscription model

What's cool about having a subscription model for us, is that firstly we don't have any gates on the content - Elder Scrolls is very much a game about going wherever you want to, and if you're randomly running into artificial [obstacles] where you have to pay, it just doesn't feel right. The other thing is to do with maintaining a team, that can offer super service and put out content at a very high clip. If you want to do that, you really need to plan for it in advance and also maintain a really large team of people.

And I think when we say content, we mean substantial, meaningful content. There are lots of different ways to support a game that you can look at. When we say content, we mean meaningful stuff, like new areas of the world, new factions, bigger meatier stuff. Not a couple of new weapons, or some new outfits, though we can do that too! We can do all of that stuff plus a lot more, stuff that's more Elder Scrollsy, and not trivial.

We could do it daily if we just wanted to throw a dagger out the door, we could just say "here's today's update", but that's not what Elder Scrolls is about. It's more meaningful stuff that adds to your experience.

Disagree? Read more of Hines's thoughts on subscriptions versus free-to-play here.

2. What to expect from Elder Scrolls Online expansions

We're doing the kinds of things that with other games you'd associate with DLC - for us it would be, if you're subscribing to the game you'll get it [as part of the package]. Here's another high-end zone, here's another guild, adding significant story elements as well as new weapon types.

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We recently planned out one of the first ten updates we're going to be doing, and honestly these are subject to change as the game comes out and evolves, but each of them is kind of a story package, like the key thing we're adding is this, and here's all the stuff that we're going to do to support that. Like, we're adding a Thieves' Guild but we're also adding a justice system, or whatever, you know, that sort of thing.

I would think of it as hours of gameplay. When we think about our additional content, we think about, how many hours of gameplay is it going to add to the experience?

How frequent will DLC be?
We don't have any official plans but the plan is fast. In order to do that we basically, you need to have multiple things queued up and ready to go even as the game is coming out, which is why we're starting now. We've moved some of the teams off of that and onto the next thing to ensure we're hitting it at a very regular clip.

But in a general sense I think monthly is a pretty good goal. It might be four weeks, it might be five weeks, it might be six, but in a perfect world, monthly - every four weeks you're getting a new significant bit of content. Not just for the first month or first two months; we want just non-stop, all the time, new stuff to go and play and do.

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